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TEPCO Ties To The Yakuza: Gone? Police Sources Still Skeptical.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the monolithic corporation that controls all electric power in Greater Tokyo, and was responsible for a triple meltdown at their nuclear power plant in Fukushima (March 11th-March 15th) pledged on July 19th (2011), that they would try to keep organized crime members (yakuza) from participating in the reconstruction of the power plant and related projects. They have been working with the Japanese National Police Agency to accomplish this but sources inside that agency are dubious as to whether there have been any real results.  TEPCO officials met with the National Police and agency and 23 subcontractors on the 22nd  of July and created a conference group on the issue. This was the first official conference group they have ever held with the police on organized crimes issues according to government sources.

TEPCO has been an equal opportunity employer. They were willing to work with any organized crime group. *Artwork by @marikurisato


Tokyo Electric Power Company explained, at the time, that the reasons behind the sudden announcement and pledges is, “that we want to people to widely know our exclusionary stance towards organized crime.”

According to TEPCO and police sources, since the reconstruction project has picked up speed, the number of workers has dramatically increased to several thousand. The Japanese NPA (National Police Agency) has directed TEPCO from as early as June, to keep the yakuza out of the workers—although many of the subcontractors of the subcontractors are known yakuza front companies. Over forty workers or more later were found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for.  A former yakuza fan magazine editor, has also been able to get into the reactor as a worker under false pretenses. He has written extensively about yakuza working on the reconstruction site at present. Another recently published book detailed how a reporter was able to fake his credentials, and get access to the core control sections of the nuclear reactors.

Even before the meltdown, it was very common for TEPCO to use outsourcing firms that that would ultimately outsource work to organized crime front companies, many of which are temporary labor dispatch services, such as Kodo-kai backed M-Kogyo in Fukuoka Prefecture and Yokohama city. Organized crime groups from Kyushu are bringing workers as well. Matsuba-kai related firms are handling waste disposal and site clean-ups.

In fact, in May, TEPCO’s Public Relations Department, when asked by this reporter, if TEPCO had what are now the standard “organized crime exclusionary clauses” (暴力団排除条項) in their contracts with subcontractors, replied, “We don’t have them standardized into our contracts. We don’t check or demand that our subcontractors have them in their contracts. We are considering doing so in the future.” TEPCO has also not fully implemented the Japanese government issued guidelines for corporations who wish to avoid doing business with organized crime. TEPCO also refused to name the companies they use for outsourcing labor, or doing security checks, and the general security at the nuclear power plants, “because to do so would be in non-compliance with personal privacy information protection laws.”

At the conferences with the police, TEPCO was supposed to share information with the police, learn the proper methods of dealing with organized crime shakedowns, and study how to do the paperwork to require the subcontractors to exclude organized crime from their businesses. However, TEPCO will probably not be held responsible for the second or third tier firms to which the work is further subcontracted. A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, “I doubt these meetings with TEPCO have produced any great results. TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor. Under the new laws that went into effect on October 1st, providing capital or profits to anti-social forces becomes a crime.  The TMPD (Tokyo Metro Police Department)  may have to issue TEPCO a warning. After the warning, there would be arrests.”

The same source noted that  a TEPCO employee was arrested for insurance fraud along with a Sumiyoshi-kai member in May of this year but there was no evidence that TEPCO itself or any other TEPCO employees were involved in the crime. It only indicated that at least one TEPCO employee had organized crime connections. In January of 2003, it was reported that TEPCO had been making pay offs to the Sumiyoshi-kai for over twenty years via leasing plants and buying green tea from them. TEPCO also allegedly paid Yamaguchi-gumi associate and former member, Takeuchi Yoichi (竹内陽一元山口組組長), several thousand dollars to stop writing about safety problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in the 90s. Circa 2002-2003 Mizutani Construction, after being named  a sub-contractor on TEPCO’s  Fukushima nuclear reactor waste disposal project (残土処理), paid Takeuchi’s front company  as “consulting fees” an amount over a million dollars (約一億2千万円). This is well-documented in the recently published book on Mizutani Kensetsu by Isao Mori.   I spoke with one NPA official responsible for the Fukushima District about Takeuchi and his involvement with TEPCO. He had a very short response: “I know the name very well. I’d be careful where and to whom you asked that question. That’s all I have to say.”

There’s one good thing you can say about TEPCO: they have been equal opportunity employers for many years and don’t discriminate against the yakuza. Sumiyoshi-kai, Yamaguchi-gumi, Matsuba-kai–everyone is welcome at TEPCO.



Occupy Tokyo: Another Good Excuse to Come Out and Hate on TEPCO

Saturday, October 15th, Occupy Wall Street went global. Around 300 people around Tokyo came out to march in 2 separate locations. Japan Subculture went to check out what was happening at Hibiya Park, where 100 protestors marched through the Roppongi district.

How did Occupy Tokyo come about? The story is another testimony to the efficiency of social networking in organizing demonstrations. According to participants, just a few days prior to the event, “meetup” group members on the forum Occupy Together were testing out interest in Tokyo. Michele from California, one of the first to post on the Tokyo thread, tells about how she and many others decided to participate; “It started off with the post ‘What’s going on in Tokyo? I’m ready if you are’, and picked up from there”. It moved from the forum to Twitter, and then Facebook; and on Saturday about 150 people showed up at Hibiya Park to march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests.

While many of the demonstrators carried signs in step with the New York City movement, many were not related to income inequality at all. Several people were out protesting against nuclear power, TEPCO, and the government, and there was also a small cohort carrying signs that said, “Free Tibet”.

All pictures were taken by Said Karlsson. More of his work can be seen at


The Procession



 The Characters

many present were echoing Occupy Wall Street's dissent
"Japanese people - keep your mouth shut til you get slaughtered like sheep? Smash your TV!"
many held signs protesting the Chinese government's treatment of Tibet
a woman in a passing bus contemplates the protest
boys in a passing bus take interest
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
anti-nuclear signs were among the most numerous
Michele, from California, and her son (middle and left) with friend Rohini from Seattle have washed and re-used this towel many times since before the Iraq invasion. It previously read, "War is Wrong"

The Yakuza Code Of Ethics: Compliance In the Underworld

The yakuza, Japan’s organized crime groups, have close to 79,000 members. It’s very hard to understand why they are tolerated in Japanese society and not simply banned. Part of the reason for this is that for many years the yakuza observed, to some extent, a set of internal codes which made them appear to be a effective deterrent against street crime: robbery, muggings, theft, sexual assault.

Each group has its own code of ethics, usually posted on the wall of the organization offices. The rules are intended to prevent yakuza from being involved in ordinary street crime, such as purse snatching or mugging. Some groups actually adhere to the rules.

The Yakuza claim to be humanitarian fellowships and while engaging in numerous criminal activity, traditionally they have internally banned certain types of crimes. Those who break the rules were expelled.

Depending upon the Oyabun (father figure), the leader of a group, violators are quickly expelled. The code here forbids: 1) the usage or selling of drugs, 2) theft 3) robbery, 4) indecent acts (猥褻) and anything else that would be shameful under ninkyodo (仁侠道) aka the chivalrous/humanitarian way.  The other rules are about relationships amongst yakuza. What is a fairly recent addition to the code is “do not have any unnecessary contact with the authorities.”  In the old days, it was not uncommon for detectives to drop by yakuza offices and have chats over tea. One thing that should be noted, extortion and black mail are not expressly forbidden. One yakuza boss explains this as follows: “If you’re being blackmailed by the yakuza, obviously you’ve done something bad and deserve it. We’re enforcing social justice and fining people for their misbehavior. What’s wrong with that?”

I spoke with one yakuza who argued that the Sokaiya (racketeers) 総会屋 actually functioned as a the fourth estate in Japan. By digging up embarrassing information on large corporations and threatening to expose them, they would sometime force the companies to correct the error of their ways and behave in a socially responsible fashion. Of course, the primary motivation of the sokaiya wasn’t social welfare but their own profits. However, I’m willing to consider all opinions.

The reasons the police are cracking down on the yakuza like they never have before is that there is barely a semblance of even lip service to the old codes. As one yakuza boss put it rather eloquently, “When the yakuza rob people, deal drugs, when they attack civilians, their family members, or their children–they’re no longer yakuza, they’re just mafia. We have existed this long because the police have allowed us to exist and we have cooperated with them to some extent. Those days are gone. We are being replaced internally and externally by thugs and gangs who make no pretense of having any codes at all. I’m not sure that will make Japan a better place.”


"No one is safe from the new yakuza." ABC's stellar documentary.

In 2010, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation released one of the most concise but excellent documentaries ever done on the Yakuza, and now available on YouTube. The title is brutally simple:Yakuza.  It is not a flashy film; there are no “re-creations” and no “dramatizations.” It may not be exciting but it is visceral and it is accurate.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's insightful documentary on the modern yakuza.

 I cooperated with the film production but Mark Willacy and the crew they did all the ground work even interviewing the family of the Mayor of Nagasaki. He was assassinated after refusing to capitulate to the yakuza or give them any share of the city public work projects. There is a long interview with Shoko Tendo, author of Yakuza Moon and some footage from Itami Juzo’s ground breaking film about the modern yakuza, MINBO NO ONNA (The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion).  Kishi Kohei-san, the head of the National Police Agency anti-organized crime division (警察庁暴力団対策課長) also makes very clear and enlightening statements on the nature of the modern mafia. If you want to understand the recent crackdowns on the yakuza, this film is one of the most enlightening things out there.

There are still some yakuza groups that uphold a certain code of ethics and not every yakuza is an evil person. Some smaller well-run groups may actually keep street crime low in their areas and function more or less as cheap security services, like SECOM, but only better.  However, the unwritten rules and the established codes of the traditional yakuza are breaking down as power consolidates among the larger groups and the yakuza become “Goldman Sachs with guns.” People like Tadamasa Goto, who’s members attacked and killed civilians;  Men like Susumu Kajiyama who built billion dollar loan-sharking empires, while driving debtors into suicide, both made the general public (堅気・katagi) targets of extortion and violence.

They did this while recruiting some of the “ordinary citizens” into their ranks, corrupting civilian society as well.   共生者 (Kyoseisha) aka “cooperative entities” also represent the new yakuza—people who are willing to work with violent thugs as long as they can make a profit. They know it’s wrong and evil; they just don’t care. They are sociopaths. The new anti-crime laws in Tokyo are meant to target these entities, not the people who are victimized by the yakuza.

The only flaw in the documentary is that it does little coverage of organized crime infiltration of the money markets and FX trading.  However, if you want to understand the yakuza on a gut level, and the impact they can have on the lives of innocent Japanese citizens, consider this film: Yakuza 101: An introduction to modern Japanese organized crime. It is worth seeing.

Japan's First Food Bank: Applying Japanese Efficiency to the Problem of Hunger

What do you know about poverty in Japan?

What demographics constitutes “the poor” here? And how do poverty levels compare with that of the United States, for example?

Martin Fackler in the NYTimes writes: “Many Japanese, who cling to the popular myth that their nation is uniformly middle class, were further shocked to see that Japan’s poverty rate, at 15.7 percent, was close to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s figure of 17.1 percent in the United States, whose glaring social inequalities have long been viewed with scorn and pity here.”

Fortunately, Japan’s first food bank, Second Harvest, had been on the job since 2000 – a time when the very idea of a food bank was completely alien to the

In Japan the poverty rate for single mothers is 67%.

country. By 2009, the NPO estimates that yearly it serves over a third of the 650,000 Japanese that lack “food security”.

(As an aside- there are several food banks in the U.S. which use the same name, though none of them are affiliated with Second Harvest Japan).

Charles E. McJilton, founder and CEO of Second Harvest Japan, stressed that he doesn’t like to characterize what he does as “helping people”, but rather “providing the tools and assistance to people in need” because ultimately — “people can help themselves”.

McJilton himself appreciates the opportunities others gave him to succeed, having brought himself out of less than auspicious beginnings; by the time he was 16, he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. As a way to “give back”, his counselor recommended he start volunteering at a crisis clinic; “one aspect of volunteering is certainly doing something good”, he notes. “But another aspect is seeing for yourself, what is going on in society, and making your own judgement about what is going on.”

He would later put his values into play in a more radical way- by living along the Sumida river, where many homeless reside in make-shift tents or even cardboard boxes. “I had a lot of head knowledge about homelessness, and poverty”, he says, but at the same time desired to really “live out” his values. He initially resolved to stay for 3 months; he left after a year and 3 months. “When I started living along the river, poverty and hunger were no longer a theory to think about but a reality to live with each day”. 

However, McJilton points out, “poverty isn’t just about homelessness” – one of the most prevalent misconceptions about poverty in Japan. While Second Harvest does serve the homeless community (every Saturday in Ueno park) the aid goes to mostly welfare institutions (such as orphanages, hospices, battered women’s shelters, etc.) and individual families, as you can see in the chart below.

For the relative wealth of the country, the number of people who lack food security is immense; but so is the amount of food that goes to waste in Japan. Almost a third is thrown out for not meeting the fastidious requirements of the Japanese consumer (the “3P’s” , according to McJilton: pristine, perfect, and pretty).

The following chart, found on Second Harvest’s website, explains how a food bank works:

“Second Harvest Japan collects safe-to-consume food that became unsalable for various reasons from food companies and individual donors. Then, we distribute the food to those in need such as low-income households and single mother agencies. “

Second Harvest now delivers to 170 agencies in the Kanto area monthly, examples of which are listed here.


Second Harvest Business Model

In a country with so much food waste, the potential for relocating resources is frustratingly clear. Nevertheless, McJilton had a tough time selling the idea in Japan to both donors and recipients. As its existence belies the nationalistic myth of an egalitarian Japan, poverty is a touchy subject with the Japanese; and in a society where the human relics of World War II still grace us, their spines sharply contorted due to malnutrition and hard labor –  so is food waste.

As over 600 companies have donated food since 2002, McJilton seems to be successful in navigating these delicate topics. He exhibits a good understanding of the specific concerns for both parties. Corporations, which often end up throwing away perfectly good food, worry that the donations will be re-sold or that the food would go bad before distribution and make people sick. On the other hand, those in need have a great cultural aversion to accepting aid; they also are wary that they will be later charged for the food, or receive spoiled goods.

CEO McJilton, left, receives a donated truck from NuSkin - from Second Harvest Newsletter

“We have never gone out and asked for food or money.”

It may seem like a strange strategy for attracting donors, but McJilton insists that this policy has helped retain clients and improve relationships. For companies, there are incentives to donate; rather than paying for discarded food to be destroyed, a company can save 80 million yen a year by donating. They also receive free distribution of their products to potential new buyers.

The food bank, of course, has certain standards for food donations: no dented cans, no expired food, nothing opened, etc. A letter of agreement between the food bank and the donor spells out the different responsibilities of both parties. McJilton identifies two reasons that this works better than the traditional method of requesting donations; first, the written agreement ensures that there is equality between the two parties. “We believe if we go out and say ‘onegaishimasu!’ to ‘those above’, there is a great potential for us who are giving out to be ‘down below’. You, (donor), have an excess resource, a tool–lets make a match.”
Secondly, McJilton also observes that the companies who recognize the benefits of a long-term business relationship with Second Harvest keep coming back. Those, however, who give because they sense obligation or guilt? “They might come back one or two times”.


“(McJilton’s) belief that all relationships should be based on equality resonated with me. He doesn’t beg for donors, nor does he feel elevated due to his public service. He simply believes in equal footing in his partnerships. How often do we bow before others or think of ourselves as doing someone a favor?”  – Soness Stevens, Living Visions


Second Harvest and Tohoku

The earthquake has spawned an additional food crisis in the radiated and partially-evacuated North, a challenge that adds to the non-profit’s ambitious goals. Though Second Harvest does not usually buy food for distribution, since the March 11th earthquake the organization has been spending up to 3 million yen a week on food.  McJilton laments that the amount of food donated could certainly feed Tohoku; however, doing business in Japan of course means following the customs, and in the case of disaster relief, this means providing identical and equal portions of food to all who receive.  In order to ensure this is so, the food must actually be bought.

over 800 people line up in Tohoku to receive emergency supplies brought by Second Harvest

Their recent newsletter states that Second Harvest is “planning to build a local food bank network to provide long-term support in the region.”

If you are interested in donating or volunteering, please check out Second Harvest’s volunteer schedule.  Volunteers are always welcome!, and so is good food.

October 1st: Nationwide in Japan Anti-Yakuza Laws Go Into Effect: "Do Tell, We Won't Ask."

Today on October 1st, both here in Tokyo and in Okinawa, organized crime exclusionary laws (暴力団排除条例-boryokudan haijojorei)  go into effect, thus making all of Japan a lot less yakuza friendly; it’s the start of the Big Chill. The laws vary in the details, but they all criminalize sharing profits with the yakuza (aka Japanese mafia) or paying them off.

In other words, if you pay protection money to the yakuza, or use them to facilitate your business affairs, you will be treated as a criminal. You may be warned once, your name released to the public, and fined or imprisoned, or all of the above, if you persist in doing business with the yakuza.

However, what is particularly vexing to the yakuza, is that any payments to the yakuza are criminalized. For example, if the yakuza are blackmailing you or extorting cash from you and you pay them off, you are no longer a victim–you are also a criminal under the new laws. Thus, for most people the benefits of throwing yen at the yakuza to keep them quiet start to fade. Blackmail/extortion is a huge money maker for the mob in Japan. Roughly 45% of all people arrested for the crime (恐喝/kyokatsu) in Japan are yakuza members (circa 2010).  Hush money is big business but only when people will pay you to hush up. When they start going to the police as soon as you try to shake them down, the business model falls apart.

The Yakuza aka Boryokudan (Violent Groups) Exclusionary Ordinances Are Now Nationwide in Japan.

A retired police detective explains the law very simply, “The new laws will make the price of paying off the yakuza, in loss of face and in penalties, much more expensive than the actual cash payments to the yakuza.  It highly incentives firms not to cooperate or collude with organized crime, much as the revisions to the commerce law in December 1997, made it unacceptable for large listed companies to pay off sokaiya (総会屋) aka racketeers. After a few major company executives were arrested along with the bad guys for (利益供与/riekikyo) the pay-offs drastically declined, as did the number of sokaiya.”

The price for being publicly linked to the yakuza are not only public humiliation, increased police scrutiny, and possible punishment, but for businesses it can mean a huge loss of revenue, cash flow problems when banks refuse to loan money, revocation of licenses, and possible termination of rental agreements for office space. For any small business, being outed as a yakuza front company is more than likely to result in bankruptcy or eviction. On an individual level, it means being fired or forced to resign from your occupation, as was the case of popular comedian and TV host, Shimda Shinsuke in August.

The new ordinances do not have exclusions for foreign firms. They obligate all companies operating within Tokyo to follow the ordinance and to insert organized crime exclusionary clauses into their contracts, and make an effort not to do business with the yakuza and/or other anti-social forces. The Tokyo ordinance is unusual in that it includes, a “do tell, and we won’t ask” escape clause. If you go to the police, before they come to you,  and tell them that you have been working with the yakuza,  the police will exempt you from the ordinance and help you sever relations. (*Unless you have been using the yakuza to threaten people).

 The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has assembled a cross-divisional team of over 100 officers to put the new laws into effect. As one police source puts it, “There’s only one daimon (coat of arms) that’s allowed in the Tokyo now. That’s the sakurada-mon.*

Prior to the law going into effect, in July of this year, President Obama, in an executive order, declared the yakuza a threat to the national security of United States and the world, and authorized seizure and freezing of any related assets in the US. Both at home and abroad, times are getting tough for the yakuza.The autumn of the yakuza in Japan, starts today, on October 1st. A cold winter is on the way. There is growing pressure to remove the yakuza from Japanese society. They are unlikely to quietly walk away with a whimper but rather they will leave with a bang. It remains to be seen how ready Japan is for that recoil.

*Memo: A reference to the Tokyo Metro Police coat of arms, 桜田紋 (sakurada-mon). All yakuza groups have a coat of arms or crest —daimon: 代紋–that represents the group. The Yamaguchi-gumi coat of arms aka daimon is often called, hishi-gata because of its shape. Organized crime cops in Tokyo, because of their similarity in appearance to the yakuza they arrest, sometimes jokingly refer to the flower-symbol of the TMPD, as their own daimon (代紋). Sakurada literally means, “field of cherry blossoms.” Sakuradamon is also the name of the closest subway station to the TMPD Headquarters.

Cops To Close Curtains on Yakuza Hollywood: The Timeline

This week the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s (TMPD) organized crime control division set up a special task force of 50 police officers to obliterate the yakuza from the entertainment industry. They’ll have their work cut out for them.

神戸芸能社 (Kobe Geinosha/Kobe Performing Arts Company) was established by the 3rd Generation Leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1957. It marked the beginning of yakuza rule of showbiz.

The crackdown began in August when Japan’s most ubiquitous television host and comedian, Shinsuke Shimada, “the Jay Leno of Japan,” was fired by his talent agency, Yoshimoto Kogyo. Undeniable evidence of the star’s personal and business dealings with the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, had come to light. Shimada was so popular in Japan that he hosted six different television programs before his fall from grace. On Aug. 31, the TMPD began questioning Shimada’s former employers about his ties to the yakuza and the company’s own corporate compliance with anti-organized crime national laws and its readiness for the new Tokyo organized crime exclusionary ordinances which go into effect in October.

But Shimada is only one of many celebrities with yakuza ties. In the last few weeks, extensive evidence has emerged that Japanese show business is saturated with the yakuza’s influence. Police records and sources, along with testimony from current and former yakuza members, have revealed that many powerful Japanese talent agencies and production companies are not simply fronts for the yakuza—they are the yakuza. For the rest of the story, check out this article on The Daily Beast.

The history of the yakuza and showbiz in Japan extends over four decades. We traced the historical growth of the yakuza into the entertainment industry and it parallels the evolution of the yakuza in Japanese society, and society’s changing viewpoints on their existence. In many way, the only real difference between the blatant yakuza front company that was Kobe Performing Arts Company (神戸芸能社) and the modern talent agencies today are that the yakuza bosses keep their names off the board of directors. They are still running the show behind the curtains but probably not for much longer.

Timeline: The Yakuza And The Entertainment World

1957: The 3rd Generation Yamaguchi Leader, Kazuo Taoka, sets up and registers Kobe Geinosha (Kobe Performing Arts Promotion) under his own name. (The Yamaguchi-gumi is currently Japan’s larges organized crime group, w/ 40,000 members). They quickly become the most powerful showbiz brokers in Japan.

1961: The 3rd Yamaguchi-gumi Yanagawa-gumi after successfully managing a pro-wrestling event for former Sumo wrestler Riki Dozan, creates it’s own promotion company, Yanagawa Geinosha (Yamanagawa Performing Arts Promotion).

1963: Jinsei Gekijo (Theater of Life: Hishakaku) is released by Toei films starting the yakuza film boom, which lasts several years.

1964: Kodama Yoshio (nationalist, former war criminal, and founder of Japan’s former ruling party the LDP), Taoka Kazuoka (3rd generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi), and Machii Hisayuki, (head of the Korean mafia, Toseikai) elected board members of the Japan Pro-Wrestling Association. Pro-wrestling becomes tremendously popular in Japan.

1964-1965: The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department launches the first major offensive on organized crime. Kobe Geinosha is forced out of business. Taoka buys 4000 shares of Yoshimoto Kogyo(吉本興業) under his wife’s name  and the Yamaguchi-gumi begans to use the firm as a front company.

1971: Burning Productions, Japan’s most powerful talent/promotion agency is founded in Tokyo with the backing of the Inagawa-kai crime group. Founding members included a former driver for Koichi Hamada, an Inagawa-kai member in his youth, who later became a Japanese Diet member for the LDP.

1974: The 3rd Generation Leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi (山口組三代目) begins filming. Yamaguchi-gumi boss visits famous yakuza film actor Ken Takakura on the set of the filming.

山口組三代目 was based on the autobiography of the 3rd Generation Yamaguchi-gumi Leader, Kazuo Taoka. Ken Takakura met him during the filming of the movie.

1975: The Yakuza, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura is released for US audiences. It shows a highly romanticized version of the yakuza.

1989: Ridley Scott’s Black Rain about two New York who cops become involved in a gang war between members of the Yakuza is released. Ken Takakura, in a major role change plays a detective who reluctantly teams up with the US law enforcement to bring down a yakuza boss. Rikiya Yasuoka, a yakuza associate plays a yakuza enforcer in the movie.

1992: Internationally acclaimed director Juzo Itami’s anti-yakuza dark comedy, The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion is released to critical acclaim. Gangsters from the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi slash up the director in the parking lot in front of his home to express their dislike for the film.

In the same year, the first anti-organize crime laws go into effect, regulating the yakuza but not outlawing them.

1997: Juzo Itami allegedly commits suicide by jumping off a roof where his office is located. Police suspect it was a murder staged as a suicide but the investigation is squelched. Itami’s widow still remains under police protection

2001: Shots are fired into the offices of Burning Productions, twice on two different occasions.

2002: Internationally acclaimed film director and actor, Takeshi Kitano conducts a long interview with crime boss, Inagawa Seijo-Sosai, for the monthly magazine Shincho 45 (新潮45).

2005: Chihiro aka Yuko Inagawa, the 3rd generation leader of the Inagawa-kai passes away. Japanese celebrities attend his funeral and wake and major promotional companies send flowers in his honor. The western Japan (Kansai) based Yamaguchi-gumi begins to take over the entertainment business in eastern Japan (Kanto).

2006: The National Police Agency sends a letter to the Japan Association of Civilian Broadcasters asking them to cut ties with the yakuza.

2007: Police files from the Organized Crime Control Division leak onto the Internet. They name Burning Productions as a yakuza front company and list a famous actress as the mistress of gang boss, Goto Tadamasa.

The widow of former Yoshimoto Kogyo CEO in a magazine interview reveals that well-known comedian and de facto manager of the company, Kausu Nakata, is deeply connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Popular actor, Kenji Haga, and former world champion profession boxer and yakuza member, Jiro Watanabe, are arrested for blackmail.

2008: Several famous Japanese celebrities attend the birthday party of Tadamasa Goto. The weekly magazine Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮) reports it, causing a great scandal. They name the celebrities but not Goto in their article. The scandal and Goto’s deal with the FBI to get into the US for liver transplant result in him being expelled from the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14th.

2009 August: Takaharu Ando, head of the National Police Agency expresses dismay after several Japanese rock stars and celebrities are arrested for drug usage. NPA officials tell the press, “It’s important for celebrities to stop buying drugs and providing revenue to the yakuza.”

September: The NPA declares war on the Yamaguchi-gumi, implying that they will remove them from all aspects of Japanese society including showbiz.

2010: Habaringara (Takarajima Publishing), the autobiography of Tadamasa Goto is published. He boasts of his celebrity ties by name and derides Shinsuke Shimada, one of Japan’s most popular TV hosts and comedians.

2011: March Heisei Nihon Taboo Daizen is released by the publishers of Goto’s autobiography, which details the relationship between Shinsuke Shimada and the Yamaguchi-gumi Kyokushinrengo.

August: Yoshimoto Kogyo fires Shinsuke Shimada after conclusive emails detailing his business dealings and associations with Kyokushinrengokai are delivered to the firm by Tadamasa Goto. He frames his firing as a resignation in a hastily held press conference.


1st. Takaharu Ando, the head of the National Police Agency states to the press that, ““While all of Japanese society moves forward to eliminate the yakuza, it is very saddening that television celebrities, who have tremendous influence on the public, continue to have deep relations with organized crime. In order for Japanese show business to cut their ties with organized crime, the police would like to do everything to help.”

6th. The boyfriend of Japanese pop idol, Ai Kago, is arrested for attempted extortion, while invoking the name of his backers, the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai faction. Allegations of other celebrities’ ties to the yakuza flood the media.

Mid-September. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department sets up a special task force of 50 officers in central Tokyo Police Department to investigate and prosecute talent agencies and celebrities involved with the yakuza, on any charges possible.*

20msv/yr: What Does The Rest Of The World Think?

July 19th, 2011
Fukushima City

“It is correct, is it not, that Fukushima citizens have the same and equal right as other Japanese citizens to spend their life without receiving unnecessary radiation doses. That is correct, is it not?”
– Fukushima citizen

“I dont know whether or not they have that right”
– Akira Sato, Director of the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters

Before the March 11th earthquake, Japan’s standard for radiation exposure for the general public was, uniformly, 1 millisievert (mSv) per year. While this standard remains in place for the rest of the country, a provisional standard raising the limit to 20 millisieverts per year was enacted for Fukushima prefecture; this “adjustment” has been greatly contested by Japanese citizens as well as the global community, as this figure is also used to determine the evacuation zone. For context, 20 millisieverts per year is also the limit for nuclear workers. Though repeatedly implored to justify the change, government officials have yet to account for why this standard is suddenly acceptable.

How was the provisional standard decided?

On April 19th, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued a notification to Fukushima Prefecture. The notification stated the maximum allowable permitted value for use of school grounds shall be 3.8 microsieverts per hour of radiation; this calculates to 20 millisieverts per year.

Fukushima Citizens Groups

After discovering high levels of radiation on school grounds, concerned residents formed The Fukushima Conference for Recovery from the Nuclear Earthquake Disaster, and called for a study to be done. Fukushima prefecture cooperated, and the study revealed that 76% of Fukushima prefecture schools had levels of contamination exceeding the designation of a workplace as “radiation-controlled” (0.6 microsievert per hour). Such areas are off-limits to individuals under 18. Even higher radiation levels were recorded at over 20% of the schools, levels warranting “individual exposure control” if occurring in a workplace – which, according to NSC documents, requires that individuals be monitored with dosemeters.

Concerned teachers and parents collaborated on various efforts to reduce radiation exposure to children, and citizen’s group demanded that the schools be promptly decontaminated and closed until safe.

The government responded not with measures to aide such efforts, but by distributing pamphlets that include questionable claims. MEXT published a controversial booklet and distributed it to all Fukushima schools. Titled, “To Correctly Understand Radiation”, the pamphlet offered justifications of the 20mSv/year standard claiming, among things, that

– ‘for “definitive impact” there is a “threshold” below which there is absolutely no damage found. For example, temporary decline in white blood cells will be seen [only] above the threshold level of 250mSv.’
– ‘no clear correlation has been seen between radiation and an increase in the probability of cancer.’

According to the Fukushima Conference, this greatly shifted the tone of the debate; many felt their concerns were largely assuaged by the agency’s confident declarations of safety. This development created an atmosphere where it became more difficult to voice concerns – those in opposition to MEXT’s stance found themselves criticized for “over-reacting”.

Many international groups have come out to criticize the 20 millisievert standard, and, inadvertently, to counter points made in MEXT’s booklet; all have pointed out that children are particularly vulnerable to the long-term effects of radiation.

L’Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN)

On May 27th, France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) highlighted an area northwest of the plant that lies beyond the 20-km (12 mile) zone whose inhabitants have already been evacuated. This report was created to “provide insight” on evacuation measures “to minimize the medium and long-term risks of developing leukaemia or other radiation-induced cancers”. The drafters inform the reader that “it is of the utmost importance” to remember that “these dose estimates only refer to external exposure due to deposits, and do not take into account the additional dose that could be received as a consequence of consumption of contaminated foodstuffs produced locally. It is estimated that the effective dose from ingestion may be significantly higher than the external dose according to the deposit conditions and depending on the effectiveness of implemented food restrictions”.

France starts evacuating at 10 millisieverts; the IRSN, in its study, has recommended that an additional 70,000 Fukushima citizens be evacuated.

Japan Medical Association

On May 12th, the association issued the following statement:

“The scientific basis for choosing the maximum amount of 20 mSv in the band of 1 to 20 mSv is not clear. The government’s action should be more carefully deliberated considering the fact that growing children are more sensitive to radiation exposure compared to adults. We as a nation should make the utmost effort to reduce the exposure to radiation of children, as well as adults. We are responsible for the children’s health and life.” The statement continues, “We urgently request that the Japanese National government strive to reduce children’s exposure to radiation in the fastest and most effective way possible.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility

The U.S. affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in late April issued a statement criticizing the Japanese government’s provisional standard, citing research on the link between low-level radiation and cancer. The statement reads:

“It is the consensus of the medical and scientific community, summarized in the US National Academies’ National Research Council report Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII (BEIR VII report), that there is no safe level of radiation. Any exposure, including exposure to naturally occurring background radiation, creates an increased risk of cancer. Moreover, not all people exposed to radiation are affected equally. Children are much more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation, and fetuses are even more vulnerable. It is unconscionable to increase the allowable dose for children to 20 millisieverts (mSv). Twenty mSv exposes an adult to a one in 500 risk of getting cancer; this dose for children exposes them to a 1 in 200 risk of getting cancer. And if they are exposed to this dose for two years, the risk is 1 in 100. There is no way that this level of exposure can be considered ‘safe’ for children.”

Japan Federation of Bar Associations

Even the attorneys had to chime in! Utilizing their legal skills, the association analyzed the ordinance on the “Prevention of Ionizing Radiation Hazards”, pointing out that “the maximum dose permitted by the new guideline, however, far exceeds (the ordinance’s) limit. Moreover, the Ordinance was enacted to regulate activities involving radiation work and therefore assumes that some degree of control over the degree of radiation exposure is possible. The current situation, however, involves an ongoing crisis, and exposure due to changing weather conditions is entirely possible. The guideline must take full account of such unforeseen factors.” The association goes on to call for the establishment of a “considerably lower radiation limit for children”.

illustration by Mari Kurisato

The government has responded with its usual incompetence. In fact, no government agency (MEXT included, but also NSC, and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) has actually taken responsibility for this standard. While MEXT established the 3.8 microsieverts/hr provision for school grounds, when the agency faces questions on the resulting 20 msv/hr standard, the bumbling equivocations begin. MEXT’s statement, “we do not believe that there is danger at 20 millisieverts…however, we do not believe that it is fine at 20 millisieverts” seems like a modern zen riddle, requiring multiple re-reads that garner little elucidation. And while the ministry of education did, according to the Fukushima group, rescind the 20 millisieverts standard at a press conference, there have been no concrete actions taken to suggest that it has indeed been rescinded.

The conference, when asked if they had experienced any resistance from the government for their actions, say that though the government has not directly harassed, when they tried to sell a flyer to a newspaper they were told that “nothing that mentions radiation can be distributed in the newspapers.”

It seems that many residents feel that they have already been exposed to the worst of it; conference members expressed concerns that none of the exposure from March 11 to April was counted when the government was setting the provisional standard, of course the interval in which the greatest amount of radiation was most likely released.

More work by Mari Kurisato, who does the wonderful illustrations for our blog, can be found here:

Protesters Come Out in Record Numbers Against Nuclear Power

A large and diverse crowd, constituting of citizens from all over Japan as well as a large number of foreigners, assembled in Central Tokyo yesterday for the “Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants” rally.

Several anti-nuclear power celebrities, including Nobel laureate and author Kenzaburo Oe, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, freelance journalist Satoshi Kamata, and author Keiko Ochiai were in attendance. The latter three, according to the Japan Times coverage, participated as architects of the event.

The number in attendance was, predictably, debated; according to an article in Seattle PI, “Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 people, while organizers said there were three times that many people.” The Japan Times also reported the 60,000 estimate.

The reported number of attendees marked a fairly dramatic increase from the supposed turnouts of prior events, including the April 10th protest in Koenji (the first major anti-nuclear protest that was held in Tokyo after the 3/11 earthquake), and the May and June protests – all of which were considerably smaller (though no less passionate).

The photos below were taken by Onnie Koski at the June 11th protest in Shinjuku, which various sources estimated had a turnout of ~10,000 people.

Amy Seaman contributed to this article.

Note: As mentioned above, these photos were taken from the June 11th protest and are posted to give a sense of what the protests have been like up to now. If you have any photos of the most recent protests, submissions are highly welcome.

the police prepare for the event
demonstrators came out with hand-made signs and balloons
people of all ages and nationalities were present
several musicians attending bringing instruments such as trumpets and snare drums
some signs echoed the anger citizens reported when interviewed at the rally - anger that is particularly directed at TEPCO and the government

North Korea Turns 63, Party Guests Seem Kinda Angry

63 years ago today, everyone’s favorite totalitarian regime (and land of our Dear Leader!), was founded.

To mark the anniversary, NGOs committed to humanitarian concerns in North Korea have joined forces, launching The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) at a press conference yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The press conference was followed by a protest held in front of the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo (Chosen-Soren), where the coalition demanded that every one of the more than 200,000 prisoners held in political camps be released. (*Japan and the US both consider North Korea a threat to national security. The recent executive order by President Obama targeting the yakuza was intended to be an indirect blow to North Korea by cutting off their funding. See notes at end of article)

Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy
Demonstrators outside the de-facto North Korean embassy in Tokyo, the Chosen-Soren

ICNK unites 40 groups committed to stopping human rights abuses in North Korea, marking a first in the humanitarian efforts to hold North Korea accountable; up until now, NGOs committed to this cause were working more or less separately. The organization brings what was once a mostly regional effort to a global scale, by linking organizations across the continents. It is hoped that these groups, banded together, can generate exponential strength as a unified front.

According to a former UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, crimes against humanity in the regime are “in its own category”. Vitit Muntarbhorn, who worked for 6 years in the post, estimates that the camps hold 200,000 to 300,000 prisoners, who are subject to systematic torture, near starvation, and systematic rape of female prisoners. Those outside the camps, depending on the depth of their allegiance to dictator Kim Jong-Il, fare only marginally better in the “state of fear”; Muntarbhorn’s 2009 investigation discovered that 40% of North Koreans are starving. Public executions are believed to have increased four or five fold in the past ten years. The full investigation can be read here.

The past 15 years have been dedicated to promoting awareness of these issues. However, Human Rights Watch Asia Director Phil Robertson stresses that the ICNK “is going to be an action coalition”.  Coalition members laid out their strategy at the press conference.

The coalition’s foremost concern is lobbying for a UN “commission of inquiry” of North Korea. Rather than having a single rapporteur monitoring the situation from afar, such a commission would lend “a group of leading experts and jurists, from around the world, selected and mandated by the UN” the authority to demand entry into the country for an investigation.  Members stressed that they are lobbying strongly for an independent and impartial investigation.

The press was skeptical. Given the relative economic and political isolation of the country, how can we force North Korea to change, much less to cooperate in an investigation? Indeed, North Korea has never allowed the UN special rapporteur into the country.

Coalition members were realistic about the likelihood they will be granted access in North Korea to carry out an investigation. However, they were seemed confident they could nevertheless affect change. The President of Seoul-based Open North Korea, Tae Keung Ha, points out that international pressure in the past has indeed led to changes in the regime. After the issue of prisoner camps was made known, the number of camps decreased from ten to six.  As another concrete example, 20 years ago, Amnesty International tried to visit one prison; though they were not allowed in,  the camp was abolished immediately after their attempted visit.

Dove-shaped balloons are released with the the names of over 600 friends and family members who are known to be detained in North Korean penal institutions

Ha’s comment that “Kim Jong-Il considers himself as an international leader” received laughs of surprise from the press. “He makes a lot of his image in the international community. So, the more that we talk about it, the more international pressure, the more they will respond.”

Mr. Robertson acknowledges the obstacles; “It is a failure of political will”. He mentions the usual excuses given by bureaucrats-  Kim Jong-Il’s shaky grip on reality, his nuclear capacity, the fear of another attack across the DMZ (the demilitarized zone), even attacks carried out by the North Korean government against its own people. Nevertheless, council members believe that “the machinery of the UN would have the capacity to make a wide range of recommendations on how to end impunity in North Korea”.

According to Benedict Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (which has also done its own investigation into North Korean human rights violations), there are four ways of securing a commission of inquiry: through the security council, the human rights council, the general assembly, and the secretary general. He adds, “We are not specifying categorically which we will use, but we believe it will likely succeed in the human rights council or the general assembly, where China and Russia do not have veto power.” He also acknowledges that China and Russia will “still remain major players”, but that there may be ways to soften any opposition they bring. It also seems that there may not be as much individual support for the regime within the countries that publicly offer it support; according to a council member, one Russian diplomat privately described North Korea as “the neighbor from hell”.

The annual UN Human Rights Resolution is passed in either November or December; it is in this resolution that the drafting countries (including Japan, South Korea, the EU, Canada) will hopefully include a call for the commission to be created. The Japanese government plays a very critical role here – it authors the initial draft of this resolution.

Upon completion, the press conference moved to the Chosen-Soren, where protestors outside the embassy held signs in English, Korean, and Japanese, and led chants in all three languages. A letter to Kim Jong-Il, asking for entrance into the country to conduct the investigation, was successfully handed over to an official inside the embassy.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, center, spent 28 years in a political prison.

Ms. Kim Hye Sook, survivor of a political camp, attended to show support for the coalition. Having been detained from the time she was 13 years old, it was only when she was released 28 years later that she was informed of her crime: her grandfather had escaped to South Korea, and she was considered guilty by association.  The BBC has done an excellent interview with Ms. Sook. When I spoke with her, however, she wanted readers of the blog to know that North Koreans are fed propaganda about the Japanese people – and that it was only upon coming to Tokyo that she understood the lies she had been told. She feels gratitude for the work that Japanese NGOs are doing for this cause.

*Jake’s note: On July 24th, President Barack Obama declared war on the yakuza (ヤクザ)aka The Japanese mafia, in an executive order. According to several sources, part of the reason for doing was that many of the yakuza are North Korean Japanese with affiliations to North Korea. There have been several cases where yakuza members were found to be importing drugs and guns from North Korea. Yakuza groups continue to provide them with a source of revenue. In his executive order Obama noted, “(the yakuza) are becoming increasingly sophisticated and dangerous to the United States; they are increasingly entrenched in the operations of foreign governments and the international financial system, thereby weakening democratic institutions, degrading the rule of law, and undermining economic markets.  These organizations facilitate and aggravate violent civil conflicts and increasingly facilitate the activities of other dangerous persons.  I therefore determine that significant transnational criminal organizations constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.” The threat the yakuza pose to US National Security is signficantly  related to their dealings with North Korea.